Martin Budde

Back Burner



iTunes - $8.91

MUSIC REVIEW BY Paul Rauch, All About Jazz


The title of this debut recording from Seattle-based guitarist Martin Budde suggests the music has been percolating in the backwaters of his musical endeavors over the past few years. Indeed, that is the case, as the past five years have found Budde smack dab in the middle of the musical collective, Meridian Odyssey. The music was inspired by, and recorded during, the pandemic shutdown of 2020. This was a time when this collective of young Seattle musicians was sequestered in Budde's familial surroundings in Alaska. The band allowed the guitarist to find his sound within the group mind, both as a player and composer. Witness his tune "Tuesday Wednesday," on the second Meridian Odyssey release, Earthshine (Origin, 2022); one can easily imagine the tune stripped down to guitar trio. The horn work ascends from that fulcrum, imaginatively from trumpeter Noah Halpern and saxophonist Santosh Sharma. On his debut as a leader, Budde employs the same methodology, setting up his tunes thematically with spacious melodies and fibrous chordal harmony. The one-mind, imaginative conversation between the guitarist, bassist Ben Feldman and drummer Xavier Lecouturier sits even-keeled on a compositional wave of central themes.

Budde's guitar sound is refreshingly unencumbered by electronic tomfoolery, very reminiscent of many of the great guitarists from Chicago and Detroit in terms of attack, yet much more refined when referenced through his original compositions. There we hear Budde's upbringing around acoustic folk forms in rural Alaska. His head-first dive into bluegrass and folk music as a younger player, speaks to his current jazz sensibilities, refined by an extensive and mature understanding of harmony.

The storytelling aspect of Budde's writing comes front and center on the album's opener; "Red" has a noted folk quality to it, with Lecouturier's cymbal work a reminder that there are a myriad of paths to swing within form. Whether employing a single note attack or a descending finger style approach as is prevalent here, the playing is clean, free and melodically engaged.

It is a common musical reference in bluegrass circles that describes the instruments as "talking to each other." It is conversational music, as is jazz, America's great art form created by Black musicians in struggle. Jazz has been shared on an international scale, and interpreted culturally as such. In many ways, the title track can represent a collision between those two strands of American music. The tune rolls and winds like the Columbia during spring runoff. Along the way, it finds its way as a jazz ballad, with Feldman's intuitive foresight blazing the trail. Budde's bubbling chordal work is the guiding force which navigates this three-way yarn.

"Companion" is where things start to swing, with Lecouturier's ride cymbal and Feldman's driving bass daring Budde to take that one extra step. The guitarist's thuddy bottom end and quicksilver high end runs highlight a solo which is a study in sound collective improvisation. The honesty of this live-in-the- studio effort really comes to a head on this tune, providing what is the actual thrill of the listen.

In many ways, "Eye to the Sky" is emblematic of what is missing in so much modern jazz composition—actual melody. There is thematic substance where variable colors can be added or subtracted at will by the improviser. Feldman contributes a solo which serves as a motif to the melody, allowing Budde to build a bridge from there. "Gee Gee Blues" is another collision between bebop language and a more high, lonesome country sound. In the interim, it swings hard with Budde stretching out behind Feldman's scorching undertow and Lecouturier's locomotion. "Consensus" fits into this category as well, a virtuosic balancing act between rural and urban sensibilities.

Jazz guitar albums in the modern age can be a challenge for the listener, and that is putting it kindly. With boomers bred on rock guitar sounds now representing the older portion of jazz audiences, edgy playing with a harder sound has taken precedence over the more traditional styles mastered by Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery and others of the elder guard. Budde falls somewhere in between this divide. There is no slew of pedals and electronic aids pushing his sound, nor reverence for tradition binding him down. The music on Back Burner (Origin, 2024) is down to earth and honest. The triad formed by this trio is formidable. The tunes are accessible to the listener, speak a cultural truth and are delivered with both warmth and fire.





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